We officially come to the end of the decade in a few days. This one in baseball is no different from all the others: What we remember best are the moments. And in baseball, it doesn’t have to be a single swing or throw or catch, or even a play on the bases, like the great Jackie Roosevelt Robinson stealing home in the World Series against the Yankees in 1955.
The best and most memorable moments still come in October. And sometimes in October, it isn’t just one swing, it’s two, like the ones we got from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto against Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the Nationals-Dodgers National League Division Series a couple of months ago. The Nationals were down 3-1 to the Dodgers. Then Rendon and Soto went back to back against Kershaw, and in a couple of minutes of real time, the game was tied. Then in the 10th, Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off Joe Kelly and the Nats got to keep playing.
Nationals fans know what they think about all those swings at Dodger Stadium, now and forever: Oh man, did they ever have a moment, for the ages
But when we are taking one last look back on the decade, looking for one dramatic pitching moment better than all the others, and a single swing more memorable than all the others, here’s the two I’d pick:
Madison Bumgarner, Game 7 of the 2014 World Series at Kansas City
Other than Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, what Bumgarner did on this night might be the most impressive pitching performance in World Series history. Because it was Game 7. Because of the context for the Giants, the team of the past decade in baseball because of three World Series championships.
Bumgarner, who signed with the D-backs last week but became one of the great starters in Series history for the Giants, had shut out the Royals in Game 5, throwing 117 pitches, striking out eight, giving up four hits, walking no one. MadBum doing his MadBum thing.
Then came Game 7. Before the game, Royals manager Ned Yost, addressing the possibility of Bumgarner pitching that night, actually said, “Bumgarner’s a good starting pitcher. We’ll see what kind of reliever he is.”
Yost found out. We all did. Three days after Game 5, Bumgarner came out of Bruce Bochy’s bullpen in the fifth inning that night, with the Giants ahead, 3-2. We thought he might pitch a couple of innings. Maybe three. Never all night.
Bumgarner pitched all night.
He would throw 68 pitches against the Royals, give them just two hits, striking out four. He ended up with the save, though he should have gotten the win. The only trouble came at the end, when with two outs in the ninth, Alex Gordon’s single got past Grégor Blanco in the outfield and Gordon ended up at third.
“I just wanted somebody to get [the ball] and get it back in,” Bumgarner, who was 25 years old on the night of Game 7, said.
The Giants did. Gordon stayed at third, where he watched Bumgarner get Salvador Perez to pop up to end the game. He finished that Fall Classic with 14 shutout innings in Games 5 and 7, while striking out 12 and giving up six hits with no walks on 185 pitches. We may never see another Larsen in October. And we may never again see a pitcher do what Bumgarner did.
David Ortiz, Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series vs. Detroit
If the Giants are the Team of the Decade in baseball, the Red Sox are the Team of the Century so far, with four World Series titles. But they’re probably tied with the Giants at three if not for a swing Ortiz made the night of Oct. 13, 2013 at Fenway Park. The Tigers had shut out the Red Sox in Game 1 of that ALCS, and they were leading them 5-1 in Game 2. Ortiz, one of the best postseason hitters in history, was 0-for-6 in the series and had struck out four times. His team was about to fall behind 0-2 to the Tigers. At home.
But the Red Sox loaded the bases in the eighth. The Tigers came with their closer, Joaquin Benoit. What happened next was one of the iconic moments of Ortiz’s October career, and one of the iconic snapshots in postseason history:
Ortiz took Benoit over the right-field wall, his 15th postseason home run in his 16 playoff series. Torii Hunter of the Tigers dove into the Red Sox bullpen trying to make the catch. What we saw next were Hunter’s legs in the air, at the same moment a Boston policeman named Steve Horgan, assigned to the bullpen that night, had his arms in the air, as if signaling a touchdown. It was 5-5 at Fenway and everything had changed.
The Red Sox won the game in the bottom of the 9th. They went on to beat the Tigers in six games and do the same to the Cardinals in the World Series. Does it happen without that swing from Ortiz? Only the baseball gods know. But that swing changed everything.
Jonny Gomes (who would have a pretty big home run swing of his own against the Cards in the World Series) described Ortiz’s home run this way after Game 2: “Just added to his resume of awesomeness.”
Awesome decade in baseball. Lot of moments. Always are. For me, MadBum and Papi were the two best. Happy holidays.